Reading about the beginning struggles of First Baptist Church of Boston should cause every Baptist heart to swell with pride.
These pioneers in the faith suffered unbelievable persecution. Massachusetts in the 1600s was simply not a good place to be if you believed in freedom of religious conscious. Dissenters were publicly whipped and jailed.
The history of these early U.S. Baptists is detailed in a masterful book edited by Thomas R. McKibbens, “Baptists in Early North America – First Baptist Church, Boston, Massachusetts.” It is volume four in a series being published by Mercer University Press.
The founding members worshipped in people’s homes before erecting a meetinghouse.
Authorities nailed shut the doors to their first meetinghouse on March 8, 1679. At least for one week, the congregation met outside in the cold.
Religious freedom did not come to Massachusetts until a new constitution was adopted in 1833.
The Boston church was not the first Baptist church in New England, but it grew to be one of the most influential, spreading its influence from Boston to South Carolina.
The connections between First Baptist Church of Boston and First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, are strong. The first pastor of the Charleston church was ordained by the Boston church.
William Screven established a church in Kittery, Maine, before moving his flock to Charleston.
When the Boston church was without a pastor in 1707, he was invited to return to Boston as pastor but declined the offer.
The most successful pastor of the Boston church, Samuel Stillman, was trained by the pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, Oliver Hart, and ordained by him in 1759.
Stillman served the Boston church for more than 40 years. The meetinghouse expanded twice during his pastorate.
He and his Charleston mentor were both originally from Philadelphia, where Baptists were more welcome.
The minutes of First Baptist Church of Boston, 1635-1830, provide both informative and interesting reading.
The handwritten minutes are contained in two leather-bound volumes currently located in the Franklin Trask Library at Andover Newton Theological Seminary.
McKibbens has meticulously and painstakingly transformed these priceless records into a form accessible to every interested scholar or layman.
These minutes faithfully record insights into church doctrine, politics, finances, church discipline and church personalities.
McKibbens speaks of his joy in being able to handle these documents. He served as interim pastor while preparing the manuscript.
McKibbens has produced a volume of great value to anyone interested in religious freedom and the growth and history of Baptists in North America.
Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.